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How I Approached Managing Up

Aaron Lerch

Director of Engineering at InVision

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Problem

"I was working as a Senior Software Architect for a startup. When I joined the company, I did so with the intent to move into leadership and management positions as the startup grew. However, the company had a few problems. Firstly, we had a co-founder who frequently overstepped his bounds in terms of other people's roles and responsibilities. He would be hands-off until he noticed an issue and he would then step in, take over, and do the work for people. This caused widespread frustration. Secondly, the other co-founder was the CEO and he wasn't holding the rogue co-founder to account for this behavior."

Actions taken

"As a Senior Software Architect, I reported to a technology leader, who then reported to the CEO. Nobody actually reported to the other co-founder but at the same time, everybody did because he would step in and take over others' work and people did not feel empowered to hold healthy boundaries. I had known about this problem when I came into the company and so I spent time establishing myself as someone who cared about the success of the company, the success of both co-founders and who cared about the success of every person at the company. I invested heavily in building trust.

Next, I set up informal chats with people across the company over coffee in order to get a feel for how people were feeling, and so I could be an ear for them to talk to if needed. This allowed me to get a better feel for the problem we were facing, as well as its impact.

Following this, I worked to identify the problem areas that were most significant. The co-founder had caused a lot of small problems, but he had also caused a couple of larger, more pronounced problems. I picked one of these problems and began to candidly and compassionately address it with the co-founder directly. I gave him feedback about the negative impact he was having on others and acted as a sounding board for him.

I also gave feedback to other people who were dealing with the situation in order to encourage them to address it. Ultimately, when I saw there wasn't a lot of progress being made, I also gave the CEO feedback about the situation so he could be aware of the issue and could understand the effect this was having on his company."

Lessons learned

"You don't have to have a specific title to build trust or to grow strong relationships with people across your organization. When you communicate to people through both word and deed that you're invested in their success, this tends to build a lot of trust. However, ultimately, people have to want to change and grow. If they don't want to, it doesn't matter how many times they say they will or how many external factors pressure them into it, they'll resist making changes."


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Aaron Lerch

Director of Engineering at InVision


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